This weekend, I went running with two friends while on vacation in Mexico.
At the north end of town, we found a jungle path that opened onto the beach. As we ran onto the sand, we stepped on lots small round fruits that had fallen onto the trail from a ripe tree overhead.
We were curious what the fruits were so we picked them up and threw them around. My friend John said he thought it was a crabapple, but I disagreed as crabapples feel tough and solid whereas this felt smooth and soft. I peeled the green skin back and tasted a bit of the white flesh. It tasted sweet and tropical, like guava. Meanwhile, my friends took turns throwing the fruits as far as they could on the beach.
We continued our run, and my mouth started feeling a bit peppery and irritated. I told my friends, making jokes about how dumb it was to eat the fruit, in retrospect. They assured me I was probably just thirsty, and we thought nothing of it.
An hour later, sitting on the floor of my hotel room, my mouth was feeling pretty weird and hot, as if I’d eaten a lot of spicy salsa. I started Googling around - “small green tropical fruit Mexico poisonous edible” - until I found listicle with a fruit that exactly matched what I’d eaten.
Introducing the Manchineel
The apple's name is a manchineel. It grow on sandy tropical beaches in the region.
If you Google "manchineel," you’ll immediately see that the manchineel is one of the world's most poisonous plants. It’s commonly referred to as “The Death Apple.” Symptoms include temporary blindness, hives, ulcers, burning and tearing, excruciating pain, and death. Historically, natives used the fruit as a weapon to kill invading Spaniards. There are several first-person accounts online that describe long-term effects and symptoms worsening over many hours.
I’d bitten into the literal Apple of Death. If I’d taken a larger bite or two, my throat could have swelled up to prevent me from swallowing or breathing. If the juice had squirted into my eyes, it might have blinded me.
I’ve always thought it was fun and daring to eat wild fruits. The day before I’d picked up a delicious wild mango on the same run, so I felt it was fine to try what was probably a crabapple. I’m a risk seeker (I surf, ski, started a company) and love the idea that I could live off the land.
But f**k I was scared and reminded of my own vulnerability reading through those Google results.
I called my friend who is an internal medicine doctor in California. She read the same case studies I'd found on Google and was more scared than I was and equally unfamiliar with the toxins, the symptoms, or any treatment. She encouraged me to go to the hospital.
Still drenched in sweat from the run, I took a Benadryl, drank a glass of milk to ease the oral irritants, and went with a local to the nearby Sayulita clinic. The doctor checked my vitals, told me not to eat jungle fruits (duh), and said I’d probably be fine in 8 hours. He told me everything was normal except that I had a slight fever; it could be that I was just hot from exercising in the intense heat. There was nothing to do but wait it out.
All day, my friends kept checking on me, worried I was about to keel over. In the end, I didn't experience any other symptoms, and the mouth irritation was gone within 6 hours. My friends who had picked up the fruit felt some irritation in their hands, but that faded too.
After the initial panic, I realized I was going to be fine. The concierge at our hotel reassured me that he knew many people who had worse symptoms from manchineel and recovered fully within a few hours. He said that the poison from the fruit onsets immediately, not gradually, so the worst was likely behind me. Several articles point out that there are no modern fatalities attributed to manchineels, despite its infamy in conquistadors legends. Ultimately, it meant I had less beer and got a few more performance reviews done during my Mexican weekend vacation.
So I survived the Apple of Death.
The Moral Of the Story
Here's the part of the article where I share the moral of the story with you all. Is the moral that you shouldn't trust everything you read on Google? Or that it's worth it to taste a foreign fruit to satiate your curiosity?
Absolutely not. The moral of the story is that you shouldn't eat unknown fruits from the floor of the jungle.
Alive, Grateful, and Sometimes an Idiot
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